Merman Jax
photo: Courtesy of Alynn Arts Photography

If there's one thing people get a ton of inspiration from, it's mermaids. From makeup to tattoos, it's cool to play mermaids.

For some though, being a mermaid isn't just a hobby — it's a full-time job.

People who work as mermaids perform at children's parties, for photo shoots, at aquariums, and at state parks... and that's just the beginning.

I spoke to seven professional mermaids (though three of them are mermen, actually) to find out the tales behind their tails.

"I realized how much joy I could bring to a child just by sitting with them in a large fish tail made of silicone."

mermaid ripple
photo: Photo by Sarah Sovereign Photography

Due to a couple of physical limitations, "I've never been able to run long distances, but I could swim quite well," said Ripple, a working mermaid in Vancouver. That, coupled with her childhood dream of wanting to be a mermaid, "planted the seed" for her to actually become a mermaid.

At parties, Ripple makes sure she has everything she needs: lube (to squeeze into the silicone tail), eye gel (for chlorine irritation), towels, and her costume. She also leaves herself an hour to apply her waterproof makeup before getting into character, with the help of her partner, who has to carry her into the party over his shoulder.

"I didn't initially intend to do events with my tail," she said. "However, the first time I realized how much joy I could bring to a child just by sitting with them in a large fish tail made of silicone, I knew that I wanted to try and turn that in to a frequent occurrence. It is by far my favorite thing about the job!" She also loves being "a plus-size mermaid," she said. "It is important to have some representation for other body types and I will happily do that representing."

When she's not in the water, Ripple works in a bead store and studies part-time to be a legal administration assistant. But the parties, she said, is "when the magic happens."

"Bringing magic to a world obsessed with science is the best part of this job."

merman jax
photo: Courtesy of Alynn Arts Photography

Jax grew up as a competitive swimmer, but also studied drama and folklore. Uninspired by the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, he heard of people creating and selling silicone tails and decided to try it for himself. 

"I wanted to blend my knowledge of mermaids with my athletic training and my performance background," he said, and he made a full-time career out of it with his own event and entertainment company, Dark Tide Productions

His work as a merman can't begin without a lot of prep work and training in cardio, weights, and breath-holding. There's a lot that goes into being able to wear a tail that can weigh more than 30 lbs, all while underwater. Jax also does a lot of administrative work for his business, but his favorite part by far is the creative aspect.

"It is so gratifying to work with other people who feel passionate about art," he said, and it's great "when that creativity can also lead to giving people an entertaining escape in their lives, not to mention also being able to create awareness and support for charities and non-profits. 

"Bringing magic to a world obsessed with science is the best part of this job."

"It is very important to me to use the mermaid tail as a vessel to capture the imagination."

mermaid shannon
photo: Courtesy of Mermaid Shannon

Shannon also dreamed of being a mermaid as a child. As a kid, she would even tie her feet together in her parents' pool and pretend her legs were a tail.

Years later, when Shannon had been let go from a previous job, she pursued her childhood calling. In one of eight silicone tails — which weigh anywhere from 25 to 50 lbs — she does birthday parties, aquarium swims, and photo shoots in the open ocean. Her childhood dream had turned into a wildly successful business based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"My company has grown by 500%," she said. "I have employees, and we sell out most of the summer... Childhood me would be so jealous of grown-up me."

Shannon also uses her time as a mermaid for good causes, like to create awareness around the endangerment of sea turtles. She wrote a book called "Turtles Want Teammates" for this purpose.

"It is very important to me to use the mermaid tail as a vessel to capture the imagination, and then kind of harness that towards a worthy cause," she said." I really see the opportunity to do some good in the world, and I want to make a difference."

"Getting to transform into another part of your soul and share a bit of that magic is everything to me."

merman xan
photo: Courtesy of Alynn Arts Photography

Xan works on two legs during the day, as a professional dancer and choreographer, and on the side switches to a tail to work with his partner Jax (his "mer-inspiration," as he calls him) at Dark Tide productions. And with a background in swimming and high-dive, "creating art underwater" just made sense.

Xan swims at private and corporate events, but said that "there is really no telling where we might wash up." His day-to-day consists of hours at swim practice, testing out new routine ideas, and working for various news sources, charities, and businesses in and around Los Angeles. 

"There are some pretty amazing moments in the merworld on both ends of the spectrum," he said. "Getting to transform into another part of your soul and share a bit of that magic (with kids and adults) is everything to me."

And while the job isn't without its downsides — muscle aches, cloudy vision from the water — "at the end of the day," he said, "it is my love of art, magic, and swimming that continues to inspire Merman Xan."

"Kids come from all over the world to see us, and it’s really fun."

crystal weeki wachee mermaid
photo: Courtesy of Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, is probably one of the most famous mermaid "habitats" in the world.

Crystal originally applied for a lifeguarding position at the park, but when there were no spots left they asked her if she wanted to audition for its renowned mermaid shows — and she got the part.

After about two and a half years, Crystal does this job full-time. "We come in, we get makeup-ready, ... and sometimes a video" for the Facebook page, Crystal said. "Then I’ll go get ready for the first show at 11, and then we have lunch right after and then a show at 1:30 and 3:00.”

It's not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination: Each show runs 30 minutes — and the mermaids are submerged in the 72-degree water the entire time. They have to be Scuba- and CPR-certified, and have to learn the choreography while wearing the tail and using an air hose. This isn't even Crystal's only job; she's also a full-time student, and a mom. But she loves her work.

Weeki Wachee also partners with Make-A-Wish, and mermaids get to interact with these kids as well. "Sometimes they come up close to the window and put their hands on the glass and we blow them a little kiss," she said. "Kids come from all over the world to see us, and it’s really fun."

"It's great to see how sea life reacts to me. Fish will follow me around."

mermaid kariel
photo: Photo by David Bilski

Kariel has been mermaid-ing for 10 years, and it all started with making her own tails. As a kid with auditory processing disorder, Kariel would retreat into her art — and her art centered primarily around a world of mermaids. She now has 10 performance-quality tails, each of which took 350 to 400 hours to make.

Kariel is based in Oahu, Hawaii, but she and the other mermaids on her team perform at parties around the country, so long as there's water.

"It's great to see how sea life reacts to me. Fish will follow me around," she said. "We'll have photo shoots and notice, 'hey, that's the same fish in all those pictures.'"

Her training is intense, and combines tail-swimming with learning to hold her breath for long periods of time (more than three minutes, to be precise). She also uses her work as a mermaid to teach kids about respect for the ocean and for each other. For her, it's an absolute dream come true. "There's nothing like it," she said. "It really is my ultimate passion."

"When life gets too crazy or you need someplace that's quiet, it's always been the water."

merman cerulean
photo: Courtesy of Alynn Arts Photography

"I didn't even know one could pursue a career as a professional merman," said Cerulean, who also works for Dark Tide Productions. "But once I did, I dove into looking for ways to get my foot in the door."

Since Cerulean was a mer-newbie, he had a lot of training to do — workouts at the gym, and swim practice in his silicone tail and monofin (which he saved for and bought himself).

But he loves that the work provides him with an escape from reality. "When life gets too crazy or you need someplace that's quiet, for me, it's always been the water," he said. "Down there, you just leave everything on land behind, and it's just you. ... Living out your childhood fantasy is worth it."